Review of: On History by Eric Hobsbawm

One who wins, does not learn

On History
by Eric Hobsbawm
The New Press, New York ,1997 Price: $25.00

The book under review is a collection of Eric Hobsbawm’s essays and lectures delivered over the last 3 decades. The range of the topics revolves around, as the title announces, on the theorization of history. Clearly, Hobsbawm is far more scintillating and powerful when actually writing history and the book under review is therefore cannot be classed along with his other works. Partly, the vintage of the papers in not in the favor- most of the issues are quite old and even hackneyed.

And yet, the book makes for a good reading, pepperred as it is with insights, personal anecdotes and the keen sense of observation that Eric Hobsbawm retains about life. Primarily, the collection focuses on a defense of the Marxist method of interpreting history, evident in “Marx and History”, “What do Historians Owe to Karl Marx” and “On History from Below”. It is interesting to know how the first generation of Marxist historians was reared in the 1930s in the universities of England-

When I was a student in Cambridge in Cambridge in the 1930s, many of the ablest young men and women joined the Communist Party. But as this was a very brilliant era in the history of a very distinguished university (Cambridge) many of them were profoundly influenced by the great names at whose feet we sat. Among the young communists there, we used to joke, the communist philosophers were Wittgensteinians, the communist economists were Keynesians, the communist students of literature were the disciples of F.R. Lewis. And the historians ? They were Marxists, because there was no historian we knew of at Cambridge or elsewhere ………thirty years later the economic historian Sir John Hicks was to observe: Most of those (who wish to fit into place the general course of history) would use the Marxian categories, or some modified version of them since there was so little in the way of an alternative version that was available.

Eric Hobsbawm not only played a key role in the writing of history from a Marxist point of view, but in a sense made history by interpreting it. This was all the more notable since Marx’s direct contribution to the writing of history is negligible- most of his comments were only indirect and peripheral to his main works- like the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bounaparte and the footnotes in the “Capital”.

The writer underscores the importance of Marxist historiography in Third World societies where historians have far less sophisticated tools for collecting statistics and facts and therefore find the general methodological approach of Marxism more relevant. He also draws attention specially to the French school of historians (Annales) who prepared the ground for Marxists to make a fuller contribution to it during and after 1950s, when the latter began to occupy seats in academic institutions.

It was the French tradition of histriography as a whole, steeped in the history not of the French ruling class but of the French people, which established most of the themes and even the methods of grassroots history- Marc Bloch as well as Leferbre.

Interestingly, reflecting on Indian historiography since the times of D.D.Kosambi, one is struck by the singular lack of influence, if not ignorance, of the Annales school on the writing of Indian history, profoundly influence though it was by Marxism.

The writer’s observations on the ‘civilizational debate’ that has been triggered off by Samuel Huntington’s “Clash Of Civilizations” are acute and worthy of consideration even though not made in response to Huntington.

As late as the 14th century, the Arabic historian, Ibn Khaldun, showed little interest in Christian Europe: “God alone knows what goes on there”, he observed, two centuries after Said ‘Ibn Akhmad, who was convinced that nothing could be learned from the northern barbarians. They were more like beasts than men. In those centuries the cultural slope ran in the opposite direction. Here precisely, lies the paradox of European history. These very U- turns or interruptions are its specific characteristics. No other civilization except the Roman civilization actually faced permanent destruction, so civilizations like the Chinese or the India never felt a need to “go back” to their classics. Without such a collapse of cultural space, would a need for ‘Renaissance’- the need to back on a forgotten but supposedly superior heritage have arisen ?.

The erroneous conviction of Western philosophers not excluding Marx”, Hobsbawm avers, “that a dynamic of historical development could only be discovered in Europe, but not in Asia or Africa, is due at least in part, to this difference between the continuity of the other literate and urban cultures and the discontinuities in the history of the West.

Not ignoring the fundamental import of the history of Europe in transforming the world after the 15th century and its role in making world history possible at all, this can be a potentially possible area which historians can explore. In the Indian experience, the system of caste, for example, despite all its deformations did provide a stability for a long time. In these times of caste conflagration, it might pay to retrieve those possible aspects of the caste system, while doing away with its more pernicious deformations.

Finally, in the paper on Has Histoy made Progress ? Hobsbawm defends his well- known position on the dicey area of contrafactual studies. However, it is in The Present as History that Hobsbawm is at his best in piquantly delivering the most powerful statement in the book. Interestingly, he quotes another (non- Marxist) historian, Reinhard Kosselck:

The historian on the winning side is easily inclined to interpret short term success in terms of a long- term, ex- port teleology. Not so the defeated. Their primary experience is that everything happened otherwise than hoped or planned.…..they have a greater need to explain why something else occurred and not what they thought would happen. This may stimulate the search for long- term causes which explains….the….surprise…..generating more lasting insights of, consequently, greater explanatory power. In short run, history may be made for the victors.. In the long run the gains in historical understanding have come from the defeated.

Marxist historians, with the fall of Soviet Union behind them, have a future after all.

06 Jan 1998 , NJ
Published: The Tribune ?? 1998

Review of Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P Sainath

Everyone Loves A Good Drought
By P.Sainath
Penguin India 1996, Price : Rs 295/- Pages: 470
ISBN: 0-14-025984-8

Palagummi Sainath is a bitter man.

On a Times of India fellowship in the year 1992, Sainath has toured some of the poorest districts in the country to know how the poorest of the poor citizens of free India live.

Exist might be a better word.

The book under review is a collection of reports that the author filed during his tours. Some of the reports kicked up controversies and in a few cases even led to some action on the part of the authorities. It is another matter that these were a drop in the ocean, and provide only an academic satisfaction in the otherwise grim scenario.

Sainath’s main findings can be summarized in one word- apathy. Apathy towards the victims of rural poverty in the country. Around this core, he weaves the stories about real people who generally lie hidden in the great piles of statistical data. In a way, he has given names to poverty. His stories are provocative, jarring and shocking to the point of being macabre.

The selection of the districts which the author chose to study were the 2 poorest districts each in the 5 poorest states of the country- Orissa, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. According to the author, there was near unanimity among the experts regarding their dubious status. Seeing the problem of poverty as a process rather than an event (in the form of outbreaks of epidemics or the infamous ‘sale’ of children in Orissa in the mid- eighties), formed the bigger challenge. The process, it turns out is a ruthless, grinding one and one that is full of amazing contradictions.

There is a story of the farmer who earns more money by selling water than by agriculture. A super hi- tech project in one of the most backward regions- Godda in Bihar, creates jobs for not more than 1300 people- many of them from outside the region, at the cost of Rs. 65 lakhs per job ! Meanwhile, the foreign consultant has been involved in transactions worth Rs. 645 crores, out of the total outlay of Rs. 966 crores. In the same district, loans have been given to members of a tribe to purchase cows, in some cases two cows per family, little realizing that the tribe does not consume milk products at all, and instead consumes beef in large quantity. At the end of the benign exercise, the cows ended up in the dinner plates of the lucky recipients, and the latter in a life long debt trap.

Sainath discovers that while there are schools without buildings and teachers, there are schools with buildings and teachers too. Except that while the ‘buildings’ are used for storing fodder and tendu leaves and the teachers teach non- existent students. There is a teacher who has not visited the school where he is ‘teaching’ for years, while drawing his salary all the time.

Then there is the case of the residents of a village called Chikpaar. The village was first acquired in 1968 for the MiG jet fighter project for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in 1968, the 400- 500 families were evicted on an “angry monsoon night” . They moved to another location (on the land they owned themselves) and resettled there. Nostalgically, they named the new village as Chikpaar.

In 1987, the families were evicted again for the Kolab multi- purpose project. The villagers again resettled at another place.

However, ‘development’ has chased them to their new place of residence and the residents have received eviction notices for the third time. Needless to say, the displaced persons were either paid a pittance as compensation and in many cases, the money took years to come by.

On the state of the Sekupani village in Gumla, Bihar, a government official himself demands from the author: “What if residents of Malabar Hill in Bombay have to evacuate each time the navy has an exercise ? And are paid Rs. 1.50 a day for their pains ? This is happening here because the people are adivasis. Since this is a backward, cut- off region.”

An adivasi artist, Pema Fatiah is discovered by a bureaucrat and goes on to win laurels for his murals. But that is about all that he earns, after his recognition, come the hordes of SPs, DSPs , SDMs and tehsildars who force paintings out of him free of cost, with a flunky or a havaldar looking over his shoulders all the while he paints.

There are stories upon stories like these- Sainath has captured an entire landscape of people for whom everyone from global agencies downwards to the mohalla politician and bureaucrat has a concern. Often this concern either gets diverted to the pockets of the local strongmen or lands up for the wrong cause, like in the case of the tribes gifted cow in a loan mela. Sainath has, in a fabulous sweep, captured this entire net of linkages in his stories, often peppered with ironic insights.

The book under review can be seen to be operating at a number of levels.

First and foremost is the actual state of affairs in which the poorest in India survive. These are tales of poignant misery, and at the same time of admirable courage. At another level, it is about the needs and aspirations of the “insulted and the humiliated”, to borrow a phase from Dostoyvesky. It is about policies, schemes and programs launched with great fanfare and soon left to take their own wayward course, making a mockery of the intended aims.

At another level, these are stories about the idocity of what has been termed as development. There are dams that have displaced people who will never benefits from the dams anyway. There are dams that are under perpetual construction, with the contractors assured of a perpetual source of income. There are missile ranges which displace village after village like Chikpaar, with the villagers and adivasis losing not only their land but also the very world they belong to. They form the multitudes migrating to big cities, ending up as virtual slaves of contractors in an alien world.

Finally the book is a scathing indictment of the elite in this country. What Dr. K.N. Raj termed as the “two Indias” pithily and epigrammatically comes out in the present work. No debates on the pros and cons of liberalization or Nehruism can substitute for the reasons for such grueling poverty. If the tales in the book sound other- worldly or chillingly macabre, it is because the Indian elite, specially the middle class, which has been reared on this very ‘development’, or in other words on the heads and shoulders of the poor in India, has come a long way from the victims of this ‘development’.

Sainath has given words to the adivasi in Govind Nihalani’s film Aakrosh (the role was played by Om Puri), whose tongue has been cut off and despite being the victim, is actually hauled up in jail.

Palagummi Sainath has reasons to be bitter.

NTC, 15 Aug 1997

Review of: The Ardent Pilgrim: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Mohammed Iqbal by Iqbal Singh

IqbalThe Ardent Pilgrim: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Mohammed Iqbal
By Iqbal Singh
Oxford University Press, 1997
Pages: 183, Price Rs. 295/-

In the Great Trinity of Urdu poetry, that is, of Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Iqbal forms a crucial link between the poetry of Ghalib and Faiz. This is both at the level of time as well as in the space of ideas, that is, from the mysticism of Ghalib to the thundering declaration of communism in the verse of Faiz.

The book under review is one of the latest to be published after the celebration of Iqbal’s birth centenary in 1977. Though largely still largely ignored in this country, some of the books on Iqbal to hit the market in recent years have been Khushwant Singh’s translation of Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa, Rafiq Zakaria’s Iqbal: Poet and the Politician and Ish Kumar’s Ghalib and Iqbal. Iqbal Singh’s revised edition of the book he wrote in 1951 comes as a welcome addition to the contemporary literature on Iqbal.

The strength of the present work lies in the tracing of the philosophical ideas of Iqbal. The son of a tailor, Iqbal won fame early in life while still a student of Government College, Lahore. At this stage his poetry was under the heavy influence of Sufi mysticism. It was only when he travelled abroad later in life to study at London and Heidelberg that he underwent a metamorphosis. Specially in Germany, he was thunderstruck, as it were by the considerable body of philosophical thought he encountered. Specially notable is the impact of Hegel, Bergson and Nietzche. Later in life he was to spurn the entire idealist tradition in Western philosophy. It was in London, too, that he started writing in Persian, which afforded him a more versatile form as well as sophistication for his ideas to find expression. Indeed, all the great writers in Urdu, have like Ghalib, either written extensively in Persian or like Faiz, made extensive use of Persian expressions. In the case of Iqbal, however, this switchover to Persian for some of his most mature poetry was to be a great loss for the development of the Urdu language.

It was at this crucial period of his stay in Germany that Iqbal was to be faced with serious misgivings regarding nationalism. It was the decade before the First Word War and the undercurrent of the conflicts between the European nations were already present. These rivalries were based on greed- and Iqbal was repulsed by these developments. The culmination of these into the First World War was to confirm his misgivings. Iqbal’s response to come to terms with the question of nationalism led him not towards socialist internationalism, but, on account of his psychological make up and instinct, towards early Islam, which for him had subsumed various tribal loyalties into a powerful spiritual movement. The Bolshevik Revolution was yet to take place and the ideas inspired by Bolshevism were yet to sway the intelligentsia.

He quoted with proud approval the well known remark of the famous Arab conqueror, Tarik, who, when he led his forces from Africa across to the coast of Andalusia, asked his soldiers to burn the boats in which they had crossed and cheered his homesick followers with the declaration:

Every country is our country because it is the country of our God.

Iqbals’ self perception as the harbinger of Islamic revivalism was beginning to show its contours. His entire life subsequently, and his poetry too, was to be directed towards this goal.

The militant mood of the young Muslim intelligentsia that was asserting itself at the time of the Khilafat movement was reflected in the Al Hilal, the paper edited by Maulana Azad. Iqbal remained politically unmoved, but his writings now began to have a definite and pronounced anti- modern and anti- Western bias.

The alternative that Iqbal now started espousing was that of pan- Islamism, and in the development of this doctrine, he was considerably influenced by the ideas of Saiyad Jamal-ud- din Afgani whose lectures and travels in the 19th century across the Muslim world had deeply influenced the intelligentsia in the respective countries. This positive ideal, as opposed to Iqbal’s denouement of nationalism, became his leit motif and became the cornerstone of his poetry.

This was also the time of the progressive disintegration of the Ottoman hegemony and it was soon after Italy grabbed Tripoli from the Turks that Iqbal’s anger found its vent in Shikwa where he blamed Allah for the misfortunes of the Muslims on earth. The poem was read and recited all over the country. In it the Muslim intelligentsia found its words. Iqbal now attained popularity and above all came to be recognised as the most eloquent voice of Muslims in the country. With his brilliant academic background- in philosophy (Cambridge), philosophy and poetics (Heidelberg) and a bar at law , also from England, his firm grounding in Arabic and Persian, his inborn gift as a poet and finally his insatiable intellectual thirst and prowess all ensured that he would be among the towering and most eloquent personalities that modern India was to throw up in the first half of this century. He was the poet- philosopher, if ever there was one in this country.

Iqbal now went through a process of catharsis and self- purification starting with Asrar-e- Khudi . Influenced by Rumi, he turned away from the Sufi mysticism of Hafiz and western idealist influences, essentially the Greek influences on Islamic thought between 9th and 13th century. This logically led to his repudiating Sufism in general and the Hafiz tradition in particular.

As part of his critique of Sufism, he began to stress on the development of the ego or self. While Sufism emphasised the need to merge the self into the whole, Iqbal took a diametrically opposed stand- that of the development of the ego. Thence:

Tu shab afridi, charag afreedam
Sayal afridi, ayagh afreedam
Man aanam ke az sang aina saazam
Man aanam ke az zahar naushina saazam

(God, You created the night, I made the lamp
You created the earth, I made earthen pot out of it
It is me who created the mirror out of stone
It is me who made elixir out of poison)

In tracing the evolution of Iqbal’s thought, Singh also devotes considerable space to link his evolution to the specific social, political and cultural development in the early twentieth century. Peppered with insights and keen observations accumulated over half a century, Singh is at the very best, his treatment of the subject scholarly and his critical faculty acute. His zest for the subject finds expression in the book- which is impassioned and dispassionate at the same time.

This said, there is at least one point that the present reviewer feels that Singh falls short of “brimming over”. In th enature of things, the philosophy of Iqbal overwhelmingly overshadows his poetry and the author too has concentrated more on the philosophy of Iqbal at the expense of his poetry .

This leads to two problems. One, the poetic milieu in which Iqbal’s poetry arose is at best understated, and at worst ignored. Specially, Iqbal’s inheritance from Ghalib is completely left unmentioned- besides that of contemporary poets. The second result is that while Iqbal emerges as a poet of Islamic Revivalism (which undoubtedly he was, just as Vivekanand was for Hindu Revivalism), he was also the poet who captured the hearts and minds of the non- Muslim intelligentsia as well, specially after the strongly leftward turn that came over in the 1930s. The intrinsic humanistic appeal, specially relevant for the “awakening Asia” , and which transcended Islam, fails to emerge.

That, unfortunately, continues to be a major cause for Iqbal’s relative ignorance this side of the border. This ignorance also reflects what MN Roy had in 1939 in his small but illuminating book The Historical Role of Islam had observed- the Hindus are perhaps the only people, who despite the advent of Muslims in India, never tried to understand and learn from the revolution of Islam, unlike the Europeans, whose Renaissance was borne from the encounter with Islam.

Published: The Tribune July 1997

Review of Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags

KHAKI SHORTS AND SAFFRON FLAGS: A Critique of the Hindu Right

By Tapan Basu,Pradip Datta, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarcar, Sambuddha Sen
Orient Longman. 1993. Rs:35/-

1991 marked a turning point in setting the agenda for political debate in the country. The Left was completely paralysed following the dismantling of the socialist bloc resulting in the unprecedented crisis in socialist theory. The Congress too backtracked its steps from its Left linkages, in the process dumping Nehruism, and despite the switchover to the fashionable “free -market” economy, it failed to project a new vision.

The vacuum that was subsequently generated was sought to be filled up by the backward caste based Mandal movement and the upper caste, Right wing Hindutva movement. For the first time after partition, mainstream Indian politics came to be focussed around previously peripheral ideologies

The book under review is a penetrating analysis of the Hindutva movement, its origins from a local RSS unit to a multi- headed hydra of menacing dimensions and the organisational and ideological structures within which it functions.

The book bears the stamp of two prominent historians Sumit and Tanika Sarkar and is distinguished by a meticulous exploration of the history of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). With the historical insight it offers, it becomes easier to understand a massive movement of our times, which promises to lead us into the Hindu Rashtra, even though the whole movement has been built around a hoary, imagined past fed by myths.

“At the heart of Hindutva lies the myth of a continuous thousand year old struggle of Hindus against Muslims as the structuring principle of Indian society and, point out the authors, “the myth of the Muslim invader and Hindu resistance has also been employed to prove that Hindutva represents the true, native nationalism”. The usurpation of the term “nationalism” is quite understandable as it is but natural for majority communalism to pass off as nationalism; more so since there has been an overlapping of nationalist and communal politics in the country.

The authors, however, have chosen to study not communalism as attempted in other works (like Bipan Chandra’s Communalism in Modern India and Gyan Pandey’s Construction of Communalism in Colonial India) but to study the ideological and organisational aspect of the Hindutva movement, which comes into its own with V.D.Savarkar’s definition of the Hindu in 1923 as a person who regards the land of Bharatvarsha from Indus to the seas as his Fatherland as well as his Holy land -that is, the cradle of land of his religion. By implication religions like Islam and Christianity are always suspect, and Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts added communism to the list.

The other implication is that only those who ascribe to the Hindutva concept have a right to comment and debate on what “rightfully” belongs only to the self styled Hindutva “nationalists.”

Sketch of RSS History

The RSS originated and continues to have its headquarters in Poona, the bastion of the Chitpavana Brahmins. “The centrally of Maharashtra In the formation of the ideology and organisation of Hindutva in the mid -1920’s might appear rather surprising, as Muslims were a small minority and hardly active, and there had been no major riots in the region during the early 1920’8. But Maharashtra had witnessed a powerful anti -Brahmin movement of backward castes from the 1870:8 onwards when Jyotiba Phule had founded his Satyashodhak Samaj.

By the 1920’8, the Dalits too had star1ed organising themselves under Ambedkar. Hindutva in 1925 and in 1990-91; was an upper caste bid to restore a slipping hegemony: RSS’s self -image of its own history makes this abundantly clear. There was, in addition, the distrust felt for the new Gandhlan C.ongress on the part of a section of the predominantly Chitpavan Brahmin Tilakites. It is symptomatic that B.S.Monje, an old associate of Tilak, was one of the five who founded what became the RSS on Vijaya Dashami day, 1925″ {pg 10-11).

The upper caste character of the Hindutva movement, perhaps explains why the Samajwadi Party- Bahujan Samaj Party (a backward caste- lower caste front), has taken a hard anti -Hindutva stance.

The RSS remained a local affair till 1927 when it shot into prominence following the role it played in the Nagpur riot in 1927. The riot was followed by a rapid spread of RSS organisation in and around Nagpur. 1927 was also the year when the national movement was being revived but the RSS remained completely aloof from it. The Civil Disobedience Movement which followed it and by far remains the greatest single movement within the Indian nationalist struggle, marking a new highpoint in its radicalisation as well as spread, too saw the RSS not only out of step with the mainstream but also completely isolated.

But the RSS as yet did not want to make “a demonstrative break with the nationalist mainstream”. Therefore, Hedgewar invited Gandhi to his camp at Wardha in 1934 as a symbolic gesture, but the latter remained ever suspicious of the organisation. “In the wake of the 1946 riots a member of Gandhiji’s entourage praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS workers at Wagah, a major refugee transit camp in Punjab.

“…But don’t forget”, answered Gandhiji, “even so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini”. He went on to characterise the RSS as a ‘communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ and categorically declared that ‘the way to national independence does not lie through akhadas… if they are meant as a preparation for self -defence in Hindu -Muslim conflicts, they are foredoomed to failure. Muslims can play the same game, and such preparations, overt or covert, do cause suspicion and irritation. They can provide no remedy:’

By the end of the thirties communalisation had already reached its peak and while the Muslim League began clamouring for Pakistan and the Hindu Right within the Congress was asserting itself, the RSS aligned with the North Indian based Hindu Mahasabha and started penetrating the Hindi heartland and the Punjab. The relations between the two however remained fickle especially after Golwalkar took over from Hedgewar. The RSS continued to remain primarily a “cultural” organisation, which frustrated more politically inclined elements like Godse who finally joined the Mahasabha. Between 1937 -40, the RSS grew rapidly from a cadre strength of 40,oob to 1lakh. The recruiting ground remained the same upper caste, middle class trading and services strata.

In Punjab the once militantly reformist Arya Samaj had prepared a fertile ground for the dissemination of the RSS version of Hinduisation. Still the spreading out of Maharashtra necessitated changes in the rituals of the RSS, for instance Hedgewar abandoned the worship of Hanuman, changed the language of prayer to Sanskrit, and generally toned down the insistence on rituals.

“In the 1940’s, the RSS had gone through a particularly aggressive phase in theoretical formulations and activities alike; demonstratively aloof from the 1942 quit India upsurge, violently active during the 1946-47 communal riots, suspected by many of complicity in the murder of Gandhi. “Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar as the supreme leader of the RSS in 1940, enunciated his thoughts in We, or Our Nationhood Defined and A Bunch of Thoughts, brought out the fascist inspiration behind the RSS. Besides expressing his fascination for the Nazis, he makes no bones about his sinister conception of nationalism. He elaborates, “…Being anti -British was equated with nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of independence struggle, its leaders and the common people”.

No wonder, therefore, that the RSS neither participated in the genuine strugg le for independence nor did it ever have to face the British onslaught, to which the Congress, and specially the Communists, had to face repeatedly.

After the assassination of Gandhi in 1948, there was a widespread revulsion against the RSS and the organisation was banned 5 days after the assassination. Its immediate response was to plead for revoking the ban. This was to be repeated in 1975 when it was banned again. In contrast to this, the CPI opened up jail fronts to continue its struggle, even though misdirected, against the State, when it was banned after the Telengana movement.

The organisational structure of the RSS has always remained totalitarian with the leader nominating his successor, both at the local as well as the national level. A strongly patriarchal set-up regulates the militant complex, with suppression of debate and the imposition of a simplistic, typically RSS, world- view imposed on the cadres who are normally recruited at the tender age of 12-14 years. By its own admission and in the words of its important ideologue K.R. Malkani, the RSS does not encourage “doubting Thomases”. It remains one of the few exclusively male organisations.

It was only later that the RSS grew its other faces (much like the Ravana!) -the BJS, BJP, V HP, BMS and the ABVP with first the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) and then the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) being its political mouthpieces, even though it did not fight shy of playing hide and seek with the Congress specially during the 1984 elections. In 1981 , however, it entered the extra -parliamentary phase of numerous yatras with the emergence of the VHP as the spearhead.

Emergence of the VHP

The V HP stage marks a qualitatively higher stage in the development of the Hindutva movement, cashing in on the new high- tech means of mass mobillsation. “Unlike earlier periods of acute communal tension (in the 1890’s, the 1920’s, the 40’s, or the 60’s) it (the Hindutva) is inseparably identified with a concrete organisational complex. Earlier, communalisation did depend on organisational inspiration as well, but the VHP has made itself co -extensive with the phenomenon of mass communalism.

This is done through staking out a new and a very large claim. The movement it leads is supposed not only to represent the vanguard, the politically aware elite within the Hindu society (this would have been, roughly, the earlier RSS claim); it asserts that it already includes the whole of Hindu society as it stands here and now, and that an exact correspondence exists between its own field and the boundaries of an admittedly varied, pluralistic, differentiated Hindu world.”

While earlier Hindu communal revivalist movements like those in the late 19th century set out for transformation both within the religion as well as society, the VHP movement rules out the need for any such reform within either itself or the Hindu society at large.

As an RSS pamphlet proclaims “Sangh samaj me sanghatan nahin, samaj ka sanghatan hai” (the Sangh is not an organisation in society, it is the organisation of society). Thus, no internal transformation is required. This “already acquired” unity in the Hindu society is sought to be suggested by invoking prominent Hindu personalities and hiding their differences and diversities. For instance Tagore, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar- all distant and even antagonistic individuals are presented as belonging to one great lineage, standing in opposition to the absence of any comparable “nationalist” Muslims.

The VHP movement being a mass movement has its own paradoxes and contradictions for instance in the perception of the movement by a sophisticated central leadership and the local activists, which the authors have brought out very well. Similarly, the unprecedented mobilisation of young women in the movement has its own fallout -leading to the emergence of a new phenomenon.

‘Within an as yet limited social and geographical scope, then, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement seems to have effected major breakthroughs in women’s self activisation… So far, the fetishised sacred or love object to be recuperated had been a feminine figure- the cow, the abducted Hindu woman, the motherland. Here, however, the occupied Janmabhoomi belongs specifically to a male deity, and women are being pressed into action to liberate and restore it to him, to bring back honour to Ram’s army… The reversal of roles equips the communal woman with a new self powering image. She has stepped out of a purely iconic status to take up an active position as a militant.”

Caste remains by far the biggest obstacle for the Hindutva movement. The sophisticated jugglery of the leadership notwithstanding, a slogan that came up at a VHP rally is illustrative of the anti- lower caste bias; “Jis Hindu ka khoon na khola, woh Hindu nanin bhangi hai”.

However, “The BJP has several ways of tackling this social dilemma. Once the militant moment of its movement was over, and the anti-Mandal storm subsided, it reverts to its ritual gestures towards Harijan welfare -notably in U.P It also preserves its ascendancy over lower castes without undertaking any meaningful reforms in their status through a monopoly over ground -level intellectual leadership.

Even where it has no direct bases among lower castes, it exerts an ideological influence through teachers and priests. Mitra Sen Yadav, the CPI ex -MP from Faizabad, made to us the important observation that harijans and OBC’s have not so far thrown up their own intellectual leaders”. Perhaps, the measures Laloo Yadav has taken in Bihar by installing Harijan priests is a reflection of the need for such a leadership desired by the emergent backward caste- lower caste movement in the UP- Bihar belt.

Having dwelt on the upper caste/ class composition of Hindutva, the authors do not overlook the fact observe that there has been a considerable change in its character over the years. “In the 50’s there was a tremendous boom in both the numbers and prosperity of this upper caste/class formation which was bred in great part by the upsurge in consumerism, fuelled by imported screwdriver technology and facilitated by soft bank loans and government aided small scale industrial projects. Predictably, this has led to a widespread and rapid social mobility.

Simultaneously, the base for a huge civil and military bureaucracy has grown, spanning urban as well as semi -rural areas in north India. It was (and remains) a class that was committed to an unfettered growth of consumer capitalism and to a strong state that could manage the political crisis of the country and the economic discontents arising from the boom in private enterprise.

For a time, this class found its representative, indeed its self-image, in the person and politics of Rajiv Gandhi. His political ineptitude, in addition to the internal crisis within the Congress paved the way for Hindutva- with its aggressive right wing world -view embodied in a seemingly coherent ideology, its emphasis on a strong organisation together with the projection of itself as an untried party to acquire the allegiance of this class”.

Emphatic words these, but the authors make no bones about the danger that the movement portends for the nation. It indeed is time for hard secularism to speak out.

01-Feb- 1994

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Edited By S.GOPAL Penguin (India); Rs 75/-

The Babri-Masjid- Ramjanmabhumi issue, like so many others, has invited two opposite view points -one for the masjid and the other against it. Unfortunately , even enlightened secular opinion has tended to jump to conclusions with preconceived notions and subjective prejudices rather than trying to understand the problem and then make an effective intervention. The result has been that despite the strength of secularism in the country, communalism has made a definite and consolidated advance since Independence.

The book under review is a refreshing effort in comprehending the problem. The contributors to the book make it sufficiently clear that, not only are they trying to interpret the world in order to change it, but also trying to change it by interpreting it. The galaxy of contributors includes Prof. Romilla Thaper, Asgar Ali Engineer, Prof. Mushir-ul -Hasan, A.K. Bagchi and others. The book has been edited by S.Gopal, well known as the biographer of Jawaharlal Nehru and S.RadhaKrishnan.

The book, rather the collection of essays, begins with an introduction by S. Gopal who introduces the rest of the essays and then goes on to trace the rise of communalism immediately before and after 1947 He points out the serious lapses on the part of the Indian national leadership in meeting the challenge of communalism. As he points out Nehru himself, unequalled though he was in his commitment to secularism, was responsible for giving ground to communal forces.

Weaknesses on his own part helped to defeat the objective of various legislative and constitutional provisions enacted to confront communalism. In 1948 he committed the resolve of the government in banning communal parties, but never actually implemented it.

Were it so, it would have been much difficult for communal ‘groups like the Jana Sangh(BJP), Akali Dal and the Muslim League to gain credibility. Then again, he allowed cow-protection to be included in the Directive Principles of state policy while ensuring that nothing of the sort was actually put into practice. Further in order to assuage the wounds of Indian Muslims, he refrained from promulgating a common civil law despite the resulting inequality of Muslim women before law. Nehru erred in making a distinction between majority and minority communalisms.

Prof. K.N. Pannikar in his essay ‘A Historical Overview’ offers a critique of the RSS-VHP stance on the issue, noting that the glorious accounts of Ayodhya being a highly developed historical place is refuted by archaeological facts according to which Ayodhya began to be inhabited only around 7th century B.C. and it was much later that it developed into an urban settlement. Probably what happened, he argues, is that King Vikramaditya renamed the more developed town of Saket in order to gain prestige by drawing upon the Suryavanshi line. This also explains the local myth of Ayodhya having been re-discovered by the King, after it had been lost.

Panikkar draws attention to the claims that a Rama temple, that too his birthplace, was destroyed by Babur in 1528. It is interesting, he notes, that such a “major event” was not recorded either by contemporary Persian literature nor even by a Ramabhakt like Goswami Tulsidas. It was much later that such a claim went on record (1870) -that too by an English writer. The claim was related to the confrontation over the nearfy Hanumangarhi temple in 1855. Under the liberal Shia rulers of Awadh a large number of temples was constructed by powerful Hindu ministers This enraged orthodox Muslims who, under one Shah Ghulam Hussain, claimed that the temple of Hanumangarhi had supplanted an earlier mosque. The Bairagi occupants of the temple fought a pitched battle with the Muslims and defeated them. They even occupied the Babri Masjid, but after their victory they withdraw to their abode.

During the course of the subsequent legal enquiry, no Hindu even mentioned the existence of a temple at the Babri masjid. The claim originated later, probably ”as an attempt to check mate the Muslim claims”.

Sushil Srivastva traces the evolution of the ruling British viewpoint over the issue and concludes that under the pretext of lawlessness and misgovernment they could force the Nawab to relinquish his authority and increasingly give the British a greater say in internal matters of the state. Hence they were interested in keeping the pot simmering. A.G. Noorani throws on light the ‘Legal Aspects to the Issue”.

Prof. Mushir-ul-Hasan writes about “Shared codes and competing Symbols” between the Hindus and the Muslims and repeats the old cliche about communalism being a modern phenomenon. Aditya Mukherjee too writes on the critical role of the colonial state in giving birth to and legitimising communal parties. Amiya Bagchi makes a comprehensive study of “Predatory Commercialisation and Communalism in India” and shows how the phenomenon of Communalism, specially communal rioting, is intimately related to local socio-economic hierarchies. His explanation of riots like the first communal riot of 1893 (in Calcutta) is particularly invigorating.

The best pieces of the book are, however, contributed by Neeladri BhattaCharya, Romilla Thapar and Asgar Ali Engineer.

Popular conceptions of the past,” Bhattacharya points out, “are often informed and structured by myths. In these conceptions, myths are true histories, we cannot dismiss such myths, we cannot counterpoise history to myth. These are different modes of knowledge…if fabulous stories circulate and light up the popular imagination, we cannot merely demonstrate the fabulous character of such stories, we must know why they circulate, why they play on popular imagination.”

This is a most crucial question of our times Even if there is no real historical basis for communal ideology “myths” do refer to reality .They do provide an insight into the mode of living and thinking of the people who originate and believe in those myths. The mixture of history and myths is typified by the RSS- VHP propaganda -it satisfies both the modernist as well as the more backward sections. As the writer points out, “it is a strategy necessary in the modem age when all types of minds have to be united”.

This strange admixture of history and myth is not all. Also central to the RSS-VHP propaganda is the theme of the so called ‘weaknesses’ of the Hindus Among the ‘weaknesses’ cited are disunity, unmanliness, patience, generosity and tolerance These virtues are identified as the cause of present ills.

This framework idealises masculinity -a specific form of masculinity Anger and aggression are identified as the qualities of man-hood, tolerance and patience are feminine, manliness symbolises strength and femininity weakness. To overcome their weaknesses Hindus had to give up their femininity and assert masculinity”. This also finds reflection in Rama being increasingly portrayed as an aggressive god, but since even then he cannot provide the personit;cation of the aggressive, fiery Hindu -Shiva is increasingly looked upto (‘Angry Hindu, why Not?’ and other pamphlets).

In her fascinating study on’ A Historical Perspective on the story of Rama, ‘ Romilla Thaper delves into the plethora of the versions of Rama’s story the variations in the different versions “are for specific reasons and constitute a defate whose parameters change with historical change.” Each major version reflects a substantial change in both how the role of the story was perceived and in the acceptance of each of these versions by their audience as the authentic one Unlike sacred religious texts, Rama’s story was refashioned time and again sometimes to convert it into a religious text and sometimes for other purposes.

Prof. Thapar goes on to summarise the different versions of Ramayana It is indeed surprising to find the variations -contrast the role of Sita as Rama’s sister In one and as the incarnation of Shakti in another -confronting Ravana instead of being a passive hostage. In another she turns out to be Ravana’s daughter. According to one version Ayodhya lies in North Vietnam and the Kingdom of Ravana in South Vietnam. The recent attempts to force down one version of the Ramayana is doing injustice to these versions -but ‘Syndicated’ Hinduism is doing precisely that.

Besides the use of Rama’s story later on in the ideological conflicts between various Indian schools of thought, it has been used for popular mobilisation of peasants. Prof. Thapar illustrates this point by referring to the Baba Ram Chander -led struggle in UP early this century (Nehru refers to this movement in his Autobiography) in which Rama and Sita symbolised the peasants Interestingly, Baba Rama Chander did not indulge in nostalgia by idealising a past ‘Ram- rajya’.

Published: NTC, 01- Feb- 1992 Edited by the late Mohit Sen